Running is often a solitary activity. Running with others is more fun, but often scheduling is an issue. Running with a virtual team may mean you’re by yourself, but others are always “looking in” on you. It might be the most fun of all.
It all started when a website devoted to active people established a program for folks who wanted training programs for running. Couch to 5K was a popular plan. I simply logged on to the site to keep track of my activities that contributed to keeping fit (which was also an option). Once on the site, I and others were encouraged to exercise (running, biking, walking, etc.), and also to eat right, take a rest day when needed, and get out in the fresh air. We would get points for each activity completed. You could also “follow” other people, sort of like finding friends on Facebook. You could give people “high fives” for their efforts; and, you could comment on what they had done.
Through that website, I began following other people who seemed to be focused mostly on running. We became “imaginary” or “virtual” friends. I was following folks from all around this country and some in Canada and Europe.
Then, about a year and a half ago, the website allowed people to form teams, with the thought, I suspect, that the team competition might encourage people to do just a little more. A woman from California and I (both runners and following each other for a number of months) formed a team which I named after one of my favorite half marathons – the one run in Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Penn., every July. We invited the people we had both been following. We soon had a team of 50 or 60 folks, mostly runners, and were quickly at the top of the team leaderboard. We were routinely putting up more points per week than teams with hundreds of players.
Shortly after we had formed the team, one of the team members started a Facebook group page. Most of us joined that because we could comment back and forth easier than we could on the other website. Through the discussions we had, we got to know each other a little better. It wasn’t long before the team started talking about finding a race that lots of us could get to. A few got together at the Presque Isle half marathon in July, 2012. A few more met up at the Corning Wineglass Marathon in September, 2012. Soon, however plans were underway for a national gathering in Cincinnati at the Flying Pig Marathon in May, 2013.
The Flying Pig races have something for everyone – a 1 mile run (ending at a beer tent); 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon. We had 16 runners from the team participating – most meeting each other for the first time. We arranged a catered dinner the evening before the marathon so that we could get to know each other better. We had folks running all the different distances, depending on their own level of running. It was a blast! No sooner was it over than we began talking about doing it in 2014.
In addition to having plans underway for the next “Pig,” we were getting a team together to run a 200 mile relay race in NJ (Reach the Beach). We were all severely disappointed when the sponsors of that race cancelled it recently. We quickly found another race in Bethlehem, PA in October with a 5K, 10K, or half marathon. Some of us will be doing the five and dime (run both the 5K and 10K); some will do the Hat Trick (5K, and 10K on Saturday, half marathon on Sunday). The runners on this team just won’t sit still.
To keep our west coast members happy (since many of them can’t afford the time or money to come east for a race) we are starting to plan a west coast event for 2014 – the Santa Rosa Marathon (5K, half marathon and marathon). We will run through wine country – and enjoy a little wine at the end of the run.
Who knew you could have so much fun with a virtual team? I have made new friends from all across the country and now have destinations for new races. We support each other, encourage when needed, give advice when asked, and offer sympathy when someone is hurting.
Rod Bailey has been running for eight years after getting a “late start” — he’s 71 years old. His proudest achievement was qualifying to run Boston and then taking on the Boston-to-Big Sur challenge in 2012 (2 marathons, 2 coasts, 13 days apart). “Neither marathon was a huge success, but at least I finished them both.”